Just 13 miles of Yosemite National Park, on California‘s Highway 395 you’ll find an amazing lake. Located near to the town of Lee Vining, Mono Lake is not only beautiful, but also has one of the most important ecosystems in the world.
Thought to be around 760,000 years old, Mono Lake is one of the oldest in North America. With salt water denser than one found in the ocean, this 70 square mile lake is also more than a little special.
It’s too salty for fish, but it is home to trillions of a brine shrimp called Artemia monica. This species you won’t find anywhere else in the world. The uniqueness of the lake doesn’t end there.
Once, during the last ice age, the lake was around 900 feet deep. In 1941, an aquaduct was built on the lake. It began diverting its water 300 miles south to Los Angeles. As a result, its surface levels halved, while its saline levels doubled.
One of the most profound effects of this was that California gulls, up to 85 per cent of whom had begun their lives there, sought other places to nest, because they became more susceptible to predators.
However, while the surface level dropped, it unfolded rugged tufa towers that resemble moon rock. Also, a strange and extraordinary limestone formations were revealed. They are dotted through the lake and make it an attraction to tourists.
Along the banks of the lake, visitors will find lush cottonwood and willow forests. Millions of birds stop by each year to feed on the brine shrimp, before continuing with their migrations. Because of the rapid reproduction of algae in March, the lake takes on a distinctly green color.
If you’re keen to get closer to the lake than the shore, canoe tours reveal its bubbling springs and crystalline waters.
It can be an extraordinary spot for a swim too. Because of its huge salt content, you can float without needing to tread water. Don’t stay in too long though, the alkalinity in the water means it can be unhealthy, if you’re exposed to it for more than 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, for those happy to stay on dry land, guided walks explain the history of the lake and offer an opportunities for bird watching.
Since 1978, a special committee has been dedicated Mono to fighting against excessive water diversions. Its efforts have overseen a partial restoration of the waterfowl habitat, while raising awareness of water preservation. As a result, Mono Lake has preserved its wildlife and is now also regarded as an important site for researchers, too.
For the more casual visitor though, Mono Lake is simply an area of breathtaking beauty and tranquility. It is set perfectly against the stunning backdrop of the Sierra Mountains, so it offers the perfect spot to escape the everyday stresses of life.
Mono Lake Park
Lee Vining, California, 93541
Coordinates: 38.0165, -119.0093